Today I’d hoped to take a wander around the Ferpècle valley, looking for some Spring flowers, but the single track road was blocked due to some tree felling. So I decided to backtrack to La Forclaz and do a short loop up to the Mayens de Breona, which sits at just over 2,000m / 6,600ft. The light was particularly bad for landscape photography with the snow-capped mountains bouncing the sunlight back, but it was a pleasant walk and I still managed to capture quite a few flowers.
As you may know, I like to bring you something new on this site, ideally with a little bit of knowledge or information, so, today, I will introduce you to two of the fifty or so bisses in the Valais region of Switzerland. As the Valais website says:
A bisse is an open ditch delivering priceless water from mountain streams – often by daring routes – to arid pastures and fields, vineyards and orchards. Many bisses are still in use today and so are carefully maintained. Numerous trails accompany these historic watercourses, inviting visitors to varied hikes on historic trails.
I should add that some of them were built as early as the 13th century and they vary from simple ditches, to wooden or metal troughs and even through solid rock sometimes (as you will see below).
Now, I’ve been meaning to walk one of these routes for a while and, since they tend to be at a relatively low level (in this case around 1400 metres / 4,600 ft) they are currently free of snow. Looking at the map, I decided to take the Postbus up to Haute Nendaz, then walk south along the Bisse Vieux before following the Grand Bisse de Vex all the way around to Héremence. From there I took the footpath down to Euseigne to catch the Postbus back home. In total it was a distance of 25.5 km or 16 miles, though, of course, the going was either gently ascending or descending alongside the bisses.
Along the way I was initially disappointed with the number of flowers and butterflies on view, though that soon picked up as I rounded the corner into the Val d’Hérens. There I spotted a Comma butterfly (or two) for the first time ever and several ‘new’ flowers, which unfortunately I haven’t yet found (or had the time to find) in my Alpine flower book.
My apologies for posting so many pictures, but it was hard to decide which to leave out. I hope they give you a good feel for the many and varied things you can see on the walk(s).
After running the London marathon in 1982 and the Jogle in 1983, I continued to run and race shorter distances, like 10k, 10 miles and a few Half Marathons. But as I neared my 40th birthday, I decided I should have a crack at doing a sub-3 hour marathon. Based on my best times at the shorter distances, I knew this should be possible, but of course you have to train hard and I’d need to execute the race perfectly.
So, as a relative novice at the distance, I decided to gain some experience by having a ‘test run’ in the Langbaurgh Marathon in the October of 1993, which was 6 months before my birthday. I’d trained for about 3 or 4 months before this race (up to about 18 miles) and my aim was to see how far I could run before stopping and at what point I fell below the sub-3hr pace. To my astonishment I managed 21 miles before I had to walk and 23 miles before I dropped below the required pace and finished in 3 hrs 4 mins. (I’m amazed my brain had the capacity to work this out at the time, as normally that’s the first thing to shut down!)
As you can imagine this gave me a huge confidence boost and I continued to train hard, including some Long Distance Walker Association events, like the Kilburn Kanter and Rudolph’s Romp (which were both around 21 miles). Indeed, I enjoyed doing these events so much I continued to do them for many years afterwards. They are a fabulous way of building stamina, without the pressures of a race and have the added advantage of being off road, usually with lots of hills to build strength.
So, my chosen target event was the South Coast Marathon, which was just 11 days after my birthday in April 1994. I have to say that I don’t remember much about the race itself, except that it was quite a sunny day, though not too warm. After around 21 miles, I felt a little dizzy and decided to walk up a slight incline and was very relieved to see a drinks station only 50 yards ahead. Suitably refreshed and feeling back to normal, I continued running, though I must have missed some of the later mile markers as each mile seemed to take an absolute age. I then recall looking at my watch with about 10 minutes of the 3 hours to go and wondering if I might make it. Then, out of the blue, I saw the 26 mile marker and, boosted by seeing it, I finished strongly in a time of 2 hours 55 minutes and 40 seconds. (This remains my PB/PR to this day).
I mention this story, not to show off in any way, but as a lesson to all you young (well, under 50) runners out there. Make the most of your best running days while you can. You’re a long time retired or losing speed as you get older… (The stats suggest that you lose about 3s per mile, or 2s per km, for each year after the age of about 45).
Yes, it’s an old T shirt, but it was never going to get thrown out after all that effort! 🙂
One of the things that both Judith and I miss about living in the mountains is Lac Léman or Lake Geneva. Our old apartment used to look out over the eastern end of the lake and so for old time’s sake, yesterday, we took the Postbus down to Sion and then the train to Vevey.
After a short walk along the lakeside and a fabulous lunch at Le Rubis restaurant, now run by our good friends Cathy and Lauren, we hopped on one of the fantastic paddle steamer boats which operate all along the lake. There are 10 boats in total and all look slightly different. (See pic 3). As the circular tour of the upper end of the lake unfolds, you can see how the Alps begin to form, as the rolling hills turn into mountains. (See pic 27). Most of the individual peaks you see below, both Judith and I have climbed over the years. It was probably where I cut my teeth and developed an endearing love of the Alps.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit this part of the world, or indeed any of the lakes in Switzerland, I can highly recommend one of these boat trips as a fabulous way to see the country.
One of the difficulties at this time of year is finding a route which is free of snow. For the past week or two the temperatures have been significantly warmer, so I expected the paths up to Villa and down from La Sage to be OK. And for the most part, they were. There was just one section, which needed some care to cross, where the snow had obviously avalanched during the winter. (See pic 25). A bigger issue was the huge amount of fallen branches littering the path. I must have spent 30 minutes or more moving some of the biggest ones to the side.
The two villages lie on the south facing slopes between 1750m and 1650m (5,740ft and 5,400ft) so, looking at the snowline (see pic 10), it will be some time before I go above 2000m (6,560ft).
Spring I think (and hope) has finally arrived in the Val d’Hérens. The temperatures have gone up significantly in the past few days and the snow is melting fast. Walking season is therefore upon us – though only at lower levels, like under 2,000 metres or 6,500 ft and then, only on the south facing slopes.
For my first walk, I thought I’d play it safe and head down the valley, where I know the snow has all gone. After taking the Postbus to the small village of La Luette, I set off down the east side of the valley, before dropping down and crossing the Pont de Riva and then continuing on the west side of the River Borgne to Bramois, near Sion in the Rhone valley. Over the winter, several stones and trees have fallen, including one massive boulder on what was already a detour of the path to avoid such things. (See pic 5 below). It was nice to see at least 5 different butterflies on the wing, though I only have a very poor picture of one, and to capture some of the numerous Spring flowers – including two I’d never noticed before, which I think are both Corydalis (see pics 16 & 17).
I’ve added some maps at the end so that you can zoom in, or out, on where this walk is in the world. Enjoy! 🙂
Only yesterday, Judith and I were sitting outside in the hazy sunshine, saying how nice it was to see the garden again. The first green shoots of grass were appearing and the miniature daffodils were pushing their way upwards. In the field below and alongside the track to our chalet, several Spring Meadow Saffron flowers had appeared. But then, overnight, we had another 15cm / 6″ of snow and we awoke to the scenes below. That makes a full 5 months of the white stuff and, I have to say, we can’t wait for Spring to really start!
Over the years my friends and I have done many long distance paths in the UK, such as Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Offa’s Dyke Path and the West Highland Way to name but a few. But this section of Hadrian’s Wall path must be the flattest and most boring we’ve ever encountered.
I shouldn’t criticise it too much as there are a few things along the way (like a café, a pub and a Nature Reserve) and the American couple who we met walking the other way thought it was fabulous – though of course they hadn’t reached the interesting bits yet. Just check out the Route Map photos below and you will see that it simply follows the line, either in the fields to the left or to the right, of the B6318. I rest my case.
So, if anyone out there is thinking of doing this Path then, unless you have a strong desire to complete the whole thing, then I’d simply recommend starting in Brampton and finishing at Housesteads (or vice versa). Note however that there is very infrequent and seasonal public transport from/to Housesteads, so you may have to do what my friend Liam did and walk to (or from) the Red Lion at Newbrough. Together with an overnight stop in Greenhead that would make a fabulous weekend, or 2 day, walk of around 23 miles, or 28 miles if you finish or start at Newbrough (where there is a regular bus service, no. X85, to/from Newcastle).
My mate Pete is a Master when it comes to organising our trips. Everything was booked and in place by October last year, but then, in January, not one, but two of our B&Bs cancelled (due to refurbishment of their bedrooms)! There are not many places to stay on or near the route but, of course, Pete was up to the challenge and he promptly rearranged for us to stay at two different places.
The first was to stay in Greenhead rather than Haltwhistle. This helped in a way, as we would have had to walk off the route to get to Haltwhistle, BUT it did mean that it would add another 2 or 3 miles to our, already long, third day, making it at least 20 miles long. A quick look at the contours on the map told me that this was going to be a very up and down day and, with a 7kg (15.5 lb) pack on your back, it would easily be equivalent to doing a marathon (for which I was certainly not prepared!)
The second change was that the owner of our expected accommodation in the village of Wall offered to pick us up from there and drive us to (and back from) one of his other pubs in Newbrough, which was 5 miles away. (Clearly we were not planning on walking that far off the route!) Again this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Red Lion was very comfortable, also had our, by now, favourite beer, called “Ale Caesar” and they served up the best food we tasted all week. 🙂 Not only that but, Liam was suffering from a chest infection, so after reaching Housesteads (about 10 miles or half way in) he made the strategic decision to take the ‘short cut’ directly to Newbrough. However, this still involved going to the top of what turned out to be the last hill at Sewingshields Crags and then walking 4 to 5 miles along the road to Newbrough.
Meanwhile, Pete and I soldiered on (I hope you got the pun there) a further 10 miles along what was thankfully a fairly flat path running alongside the B6318 to Walwick and Collerford, before the path turned south to Wall. The only thing that kept me going was Pete’s promise of a beer in the appropriately name Hadrian Hotel in Wall. Cheers Pete! 🍻 😀
You may have noticed a distinct lack of Wall in my pictures yesterday. That’s because evidence of the remaining Wall doesn’t really start until around 29 miles in from the Solway Coast. So I’ll make up for that today with quite a few images, together with a couple of information boards with artist impressions of what the original Wall might have looked like.
Our second day started in Brampton and finished at the very warm and welcoming Greenhead Hotel. In total we covered about 15 miles, which included the 2 miles we had to walk back to the official route at Newtown and a detour of about a mile to the excellent café at Lanercost Priory. We were very grateful that we hadn’t planned to do the walk the week before, as evidence of the recent snows was there to be seen as we headed, gradually ascending, towards the Pennines.